Thursday, November 06, 2014

Glen Campbell, "Wichita Lineman" (1968)

Nov. 16, 1968, #3

Written by Jimmy Webb, produced by Al DeLory, sung by Glen Campbell, with a twangy guitar break by James Burton, the much-honored "Wichita Lineman" is still somehow vastly more than the sum of its parts. Jimmy Webb wrote "MacArthur Park" and, more importantly for our purposes here, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Galveston," more hits for Campbell. All were produced by DeLory (except "MacArthur Park," produced by Webb). I think Glen Campbell may have been a little underrated for much of his career (too commercial or something)—"Wichita Lineman" comes from the same album that also yielded the wonderful sad schmaltz of "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife." But consider the larger pattern: Wichita, Phoenix, Galveston, even MacArthur Park. The sense of place is strong with this team, and indeed, it's the specificity of the working man in Kansas that contributes so much to what makes the song work so well. It oozes a clean and bracing sadness, better in every way than any kind of self-pity, no matter how justified. The singer is working and he is sad and he is working. It describes a universal experience: unrequited love, and the requirement to keep working. The sadness is thus exponential and infinite. It has strange, affecting lines: "I hear you singing in the wire / I can hear you through the whine," which mimic the effect of hearing songs like this late at night from a strange AM radio station very far away. The Wichita lineman is still on the line. The orchestra swoops and soars. James Burton, perhaps most famous as an Elvis Presley sideman (and Ricky Nelson too), enters. Is it possible anything could ever be more beautiful on this God's green earth?

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